A Slippery Slope
AND HOW TO AVOID IT.
I’ve discussed logical fallacies in my column in the past. One such fallacy I have not touched upon is the slippery slope. By definition, a slippery slope “is a logical device, but it is usually known under its fallacious form, in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any rational argument or demonstrable mechanism for the inevitability of the event in question.” The slippery slope is similar to the Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc—a fallacy I have commented on in the past—which means, “after this, therefore, because of this,” and it is akin to the popular expression “opening a can of worms,” which arises from the idea of opening a can of worms just to get one worm could lead to a situation where many worms escape the jar, so one must be sure to be in great need of that one worm to justify the possible unintended consequences.
For instance, consider if I were to say that if we allow B to happen, then C will happen. C is bad, so in order to keep it from happening we cannot allow B to happen. There are a host of examples, predominantly in the media and politics, and its use has been seen in arguments from gun control to gay marriage to substance abuse.
The response to raising the minimum wage is often met with the idea that if we raise it a few dollars now, what is to stop it from getting to unmanageable, even absurd levels? During oral arguments in deliberation of the new healthcare law, The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, Justice Antonin G. Scalia uttered this infamous logical fallacy about broccoli: “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food,” he said. “Therefore, everybody is in the market. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”
Many television advertisements get caught, even embrace, the idea of this false logic. One in particular—and I am not the first to cite it in this context—is DirecTV’s so-called “Don’t Wake Up in a Ditch” commercial. Meant as parody and, I believe, well aware of its venture down the slippery slope, the commercial’s narrator offers this scenario:
“When your cable company puts you on hold you get angry; When you get angry you blow off steam; When you blow off steam, accidents happen; When accidents happen, you get an eye-patch; When you get an eye-patch, people think you’re tough; When people think you’re tough, they want to see how tough; And when they want to see how tough, you wake up in a ditch.”
While use of this type of logic can be dangerous, its reverse can be as well. Reverse slippery slope is often used to justify actions. For example, if having just one cigarette will not give you cancer, it must be fine; Beginning to drink non-socially will not necessarily lead to dying alone of liver disease. But it could.
So how do we avoid the pitfalls, and more importantly the fears, that come from the opening-a-can-of-worms mentality set forth in the slippery slope? This month’s Qualityoffers some suggestions with “Implementing a Calibration System” and “How Do You Buy an Oil Rig?”
As always, enjoy and thanks for reading!